Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Estimates for Public Services 2011
The Central Statistics Office, CSO, is responsible for the collection, processing and publication of official statistics on economic, social and general conditions in the State. While the main focus is to meet the statistical requirements of Government, there is a very wide community of users of statistics, both national and international. Statistics are used by Departments and public bodies, by business, universities, research institutes and the general public. Indeed, members of the public are increasingly aware of the key statistics and indicators concerning the economic and social issues which affect their daily lives.
International organisations, notably the Commission, the IMF and the OECD, are also important users of statistics. The CSO must comply with an extensive body of European legislation on statistics; the majority of surveys are required by EU regulations and these demands are increasing.
International organisations also have a significant role in defining standards for the compilation of comparable information and in setting quality standards and principles for the governance of official statistics. In this regard, the CSO subscribes to the standards set out in the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the European Statistics Code of Practice. Net expenditure by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, in 2010 amounted to €50,762,000. The 2011 net allocation is €80,067,000. This is an increase of 58%, the reason for the increase being the census of population which is undertaken every five years. As Deputies will be aware census day was on 10 April. Almost all of the census collection costs have been incurred in the first half of the year. The Central Fund Act 1965 limits Departments to spending no more than four fifths of the previous year's allocation in anticipation of the Department's Vote being passed by the Dáil. The need to discharge the outstanding census field payments now, mainly the balance of the fees due to enumerators, makes it necessary to put the Vote before the House in advance of those for other Departments and Offices.
More than 5,300 temporary field staff were employed by the CSO to conduct the census field operation. During the course of the operation they delivered and collected more than 1.6 million census forms. Their work has been successfully completed and I thank and commend all the census field staff on their effort and dedication in conducting census 2011. Final payments to the census field staff are being issued this week and the motion will enable the CSO to fulfil its commitments to these staff and to continue with the rest of its statistical work programme throughout the remainder of 2011. The CSO aims to publish the preliminary results of the census at the end of June. These results will provide population summaries by gender, for each county and electoral district, as well as providing benchmark data on net migration in the five years since the last census in 2006.
During the next six months the CSO will scan and code the census forms, which amount to more than 20 million pages of information. The first detailed census results will be published in March 2012, less than one year after census day. The programme of census reports will include nine thematic releases containing tables, maps, interpretation and analysis. Detailed on-line tables and small-area statistics will be produced. The exact timetable and details of the census publication programme will be announced on the CSO website in September this year. While the census is the CSO's largest project, the office has an extensive ongoing work programme and publishes in excess of 300 statistical releases and publications every year. Results from the latest household budget survey will be published later this year.
Initial results from the June 2010 census of agriculture were published in March and a detailed county report on farming will be published in 2012. The CSO compiles our most important economic indicators, which receive close scrutiny in the present climate. For example, it will publish the quarter one figures on the labour market and on national income later this month. Monthly indicators such as the consumer price index and the retail sales index will receive close attention from economic commentators and from the public at large. The CSO's newest reports also reflect current policy priorities. These include the residential property price index series, which was published in May; the last release on foreign nationals' PPSN allocations, employment and social welfare activity, also issued in May; and the CSO's job churn analysis, which provides an on-line visual and tabular presentation of the changes in employment in each sector of the economy. These three reports were all based on existing administrative data sources. They illustrate the potential to provide statistical insight using administrative data and to produce new statistics without increasing the burden on data providers.
The CSO is taking a comprehensive approach to reducing the burden on business of providing statistics. This involves the re-design of questionnaires, the reduction of sample sizes and greater integration of data from existing sources. By taking this approach, the CSO reduced the statistical burden on businesses by 7.3% in 2009. A similar reduction is being achieved this year. One of the key initiatives to reduce the burden in 2011 is a reduction in the number of small enterprises which are being surveyed in the annual services inquiry. Instead of sending questionnaires to these firms, the necessary information will be estimated by the CSO from Revenue data.
Similarly, the annual June and December surveys of agriculture now require less form-filling than before because information on cattle and cereals is obtained directly by the CSO from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The overall approach is in line with the National Statistics Board's Strategy for Statistics 2009-2014, which places a strong emphasis on the overall Irish statistical system and on realising the statistical potential of administrative records. The CSO is working closely with other Departments and agencies to help support the effective use of statistics to inform policy. In this regard statistics have an important role to play in promoting evidence-informed decision making and in monitoring policy outcomes. I expect that a climate of greater accountability and preference management in the public service will increase the demand for statistical information.
Finally, the number of staff in the CSO's Vote for 2011 is 850. This compares with 767 in 2010. Under the employment control framework, the permanent staffing of the CSO will reduce to 725 in 2012, after the census processing is finalised, and to 700 by 2014. Like all Departments and offices, the CSO must meet the challenges of public service reform. The office has fully delivered on all its commitments for savings under the McCarthy report and the Croke Park agreement and is implementing a programme of continual improvement to meet the challenges ahead. As I stated at the outset, I thank all the staff of the CSO, including the 5,300 field staff who collected the census forms, for a job well done so far. I look forward to seeing the results of their work when the preliminary results are published by the CSO at the end of this month. I commend the Estimate to the House.
I welcome the opportunity of speaking on the motion, a Revised Estimate for the CSO for €80 million for the current year. We support the Revised Estimate and it is necessary that this is done. I am keen to ensure there are no difficulties with the matter. The reason the Revised Estimate is so large this year is because the census was held on 10 April. Excellent work was carried out by the 5,300 enumerators and all the supervisory and control staff.
I am pleased that the Minister of State has indicated that the preliminary returns will be announced by the end of this month. Based on previous Supreme Court judgments this will immediately commence the process of a review of constituency boundaries to take account of the changing populations. At that stage I expect the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, will set up a new Constituency Commission and will probably call on it to set the number of new Deputies in the order of 150 after the next election. That is approximately where he is going on the issue. This is only one side product of the Revised Estimates and the census process.
The Deputy's statement was informative in a way and it gives us a good brief on the CSO but it does not deal with the real issue of why we are here today. The question must be asked why we are passing this single Revised Estimate today. The reason must be seen in the context of the fact that the Revised Estimates for Public Services 2011 was published six months ago. Since the general election the new Government has made no effort whatever to bring the Estimates before the Dáil or to have them passed by the Dáil. Now, we are midway through the month of June, almost half way through the year. The Government has shown contempt for the new Dáil by not bringing any of the Estimates for any Department before the House to date.
There has been talk of Dáil reform. The Government's idea of Dáil reform is to diminish the role of the Dáil, the role of Members, including the Government backbenchers, and the Opposition. The announcement today by the Government of the setting up of new committees is unsatisfactory. For the first time I imagine no member of the Opposition will be allowed to chair a direct line Department committee. That is unprecedented. Members of the Opposition will be given the Chairs outside of direct line Ministries, whether it is the traditional PAC role or Committee on Members' Interests role or something like that.
The Book of Estimates as passed in the budget last year was for €57 billion of expenditure this year. Approximately €25 billion - a conservative reckoning - of that €57 billion has already been spent this year by the various Departments without any approval by this Chamber. Deputy Mathews will surely agree that the concept of a business going halfway through its financial year before approving its budget for the year is so absurd as to be incomprehensible. There has been no discussion with the Whips as to the timetabling of the Estimates, but I have no doubt guillotines will be used before the summer recess to ensure they are completed.
The €80 million allocation for the CSO out of a total Estimate for the entire year for all Departments of €57 billion equates to some €1 in every €700 that will be spent by the Government this year. Why is Dáil approval being sought today for this one Vote? It is indicative of the shambles into which the Government has led itself.
We are in a shambolic situation. In less than 36 hours' time, 5,300 enumerators are due to be paid for the field work they did in conducting the census. That money will have to be in their bank accounts by Friday, according to the Minister of State's note, which means it must be transferred at five minutes after midnight on Thursday night if it is being done by electronic transfer. It would be illegal for anybody in the payroll section of the CSO to press the button to arrange those transfers before the Dáil approves the Estimate today. The Minister of State has brought this to the wire and has shown a complete disregard for public servants. There are less than 36 hours to ensure these people are paid, and they will not be if this Estimate is not approved. That is why I support the motion. This is an example of incompetent management.
Today will go down as an historic day because it is the day the Government has been found out. We have seen the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance walking away from the negotiations on a 1% reduction in the interest rate on the EU-IMF deal. That is their handling of the macro debate. In regard to the micro debate, the Government has shown contempt for public servants, for the Estimates process and for the Dáil by not ensuring this particular Estimate was agreed sooner. The Minister of State is doing a fire brigade job today with only 36 hours left.
I suspect the Minister of State had no concept that these payments had to be paid in 36 hours' time. His persistent interruptions suggest he is not on top of the job.
Another issue is the Government's proposals regarding the establishment of Oireachtas committees whereby no Opposition Member will chair any direct-line departmental committee. To reiterate, the Government's decision at the macro level on the 1% interest rate reduction on the bailout has fallen apart today; the micro-level handling of this particular Estimate whereby the Minister of State has pushed it to the wire and almost blown it means our consent is required today in order to ensure public service staff are paid this Friday; and the Government's contempt for the Dáil in rushing through the setting up of committees without any Opposition agreement in regard to membership and chairmanship is a disgrace.
This is the Government's 91st day in office and we can all expect a major public relations spin soon with claims of how wonderfully it has performed in its first 100 day. However, the cracks are beginning to show. The Government is entitled to its honeymoon period, but the Queen and President Obama have come and gone and the glow is beginning to wear off. From now on the Government is on its own. It can continue to blame the outgoing Administration for all these decisions, but we are not responsible for the Government's election promise that it would negotiate a 1% reduction in the interest rate on the bailout, which it has failed to do. We are not responsible for the fact that the Government is making a hames of setting up committees and has allowed no Opposition input. These are the Government's decisions and actions, not ours. It is not our fault that the payment of staff at the CSO has been brought to the wire and that an emergency motion is required.
It is bizarre to hear the previous speaker condemning the Government for something for which the previous Administration is responsible. Last year's Estimate for the CSO should have taken account of the census taking place in April this year. I am no friend of the Government, but it is bizarre that this should be one of the criticisms levelled against it.
My main concern is that we should learn from this debacle and review the situation where retired people rather than the long-term unemployed are engaged as enumerators. The census offers an opportunity to get people off the dole for one, two or even three months. It is a pity we are down to the wire in regard to the remuneration of those people who took part in gathering the 1.6 million census forms. They should have been paid much sooner. There is also an issue in that the tender for the gathering and compilation of census data was given to a United States company based in Britain which has a dubious history. However, my colleague will deal with that point.
I hope lessons are learned too in terms of the wording of census questions, some of which we still have not got right. For example, many people were upset by the question which asked female respondents about the number of children born alive to them. This means women who have had stillbirths are not included in the data. Society has moved on from the situation in the past and such births are now registered and funerals are conducted for these infants. We must be careful about how this question is worded in the future.
The plan to publish the details of the 1926 census later this year is welcome and they will be a great tool for historians and for anybody interested in their family history. However, a difficulty may arise from the decision to release this information before 100 years have lapsed, as is the usual practice, in that it may discourage people from providing accurate information in future censuses. In other words, the release of historical census data ahead of schedule has consequences today. In that context, I urge that the 1936 census not be released before 2036. There is a concern that personal information may be released at a future date which might cast some type of aspersion on people still living.
I welcome the announcement that the full data from the 2011 census will be published by the end of March next year. It is vital that we get the statistics early, especially in this changing climate, so that policy can be properly planned. I urge the Government to review the data as quickly as possible so that we can get our social policy right and plan our economy into the future. The preliminary data will be available at the end of June and must be reviewed over the summer as part of the planning for budget 2012. These data will help us to understand the scale of poverty in society and to see what changes have happened since the last census.
Finally, in the event that we have not changed to having an electoral register based on PPS numbers when future censuses are taken, I urge that the opportunity presented by people calling to each house in the country be used to induce people to fill out another form to ensure everyone is on the electoral register.
The census process undoubtedly is of critical importance to the people and to those of us who seek change for good in society and who rely heavily on its findings in respect of unemployment rates, income levels and so on across the counties and regions of this State. Consequently, it is a project of critical importance that is undertaken periodically.
However, I am strongly of the view that the project was undermined this time. Information has come into the public domain concerning one of the private companies that assisted the CSO with this census. While I acknowledge it has assisted the CSO in the past, this information has only now come to light. I refer to the private company CACI UK, which was awarded a contract worth €5.8 million to assist the CSO in a number of roles pertaining to the undertaking of the census.
In respect of CACI, I refer to hundreds of torture victims from Iraq who were forced to endure Abu Ghraib and all Members are familiar with both the scandal there and the images sent around the world. CACI, the parent company based in America, is before the United States federal courts, having been taken to court by hundreds of victims. Moreover, their case is supported by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a group established in the 1960s by those who are campaigning for civil rights in the United States. Members will recall those campaigns for the rights of black people in America, involving people such as Martin Luther King and many others who we celebrate here in Ireland in particular. The aforementioned civil rights organisation is supporting the hundreds of victims who are taking a case against the very company that worked on the Irish census. This constitutes an absolute shame on our people and the Government has ignored this because this point has been put to it.
I refer to another company with which, sadly, Ireland has a relationship, called L-3 Integrated Systems, which also is being taken to court in America for its alleged involvement in acts in Iraq. This company has aeroplanes that fly through Shannon Airport and two of which, with registration numbers N475LC and N478GS, are regular visitors to Shannon Airport. Therefore, one must ask serious questions about the approach being taken by this State on two levels. This concerns private companies that were involved in heinous acts and which have been taken to court both by the alleged victims and by reputable and highly respected groups that protect citizens' rights in America.
Very well, I will wrap up fairly quickly. A critical point in this regard is that the Pentagon itself conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib affair, which had a devastating impact on the Americans' efforts in Iraq at the time. The resulting report found against CACI personnel and stated they were involved in the abuse of prisoners, had not been properly trained, had lied to investigators and were incompetent. This information is contained in the Pentagon's own report. I tabled a question to the Taoiseach in April on this issue and received a response from the Government and the CSO. It stated that CACI UK Limited, which is a subsidiary of the group that allegedly is responsible for these heinous crimes, and which the United States Pentagon considers to be responsible for them, presented the best value for money. Is this how standards now are assessed in Ireland? Is it the case that we do not care about the reputation of a private company which gains access potentially to highly sensitive information on behalf of the people and which possibly could pass on such information to external intelligence services for whatever purpose? Is it the case that we have no concern about the damage to our reputation caused by this? I cannot let the motion under discussion pass without putting this on the record.
When asked to speak publicly on this issue, I have called on the people to fill out their census forms. I did not wish to undermine the census project because it is of critical importance. While I acted in good faith, I call on the Government and the CSO, now this project has been completed, to ensure this State never again employs a company to carry out critical work on behalf of the people that has any connection to human rights abuses at any time.
If, as expected, the Dáil decides to pass this motion to grant the CSO access to these funds, the Dáil and the Government in particular must take responsibility for the information the State effectively is buying. There must be immediate action in respect of service planning and provision because what is the point of this exercise otherwise? I also wish to put on record that I am fully supportive of a five-year census. I often have made good use of census data in the past to demonstrate inequity in service provision and in particular for those areas in which there has been rapid population expansion. While the work was well organised and carried out diligently by the enumerators, I share the concerns regarding the aforementioned company that received the contract. However, this information is important and has a wide application.
The information provided by the census is time-dependent and must be collected, collated and used because with each day, week or month that passes, the information becomes further out of date and as a result, timing is of great importance for service provision. A strong example of the State's sluggishness in using the census results occurred when the decision was made at some point not to use the preliminary figures to commence the redrawing of constituencies. I recall making this argument strongly in the Dáil in 2006, because a timing issue had arisen between the five-year term of the Dáil and the census figures. At that time, I was informed by the then Minister, Dick Roche, that it would be illegal to use the preliminary figures. This response annoyed me to such an extent that together with Deputy Finian McGrath, I took a constitutional case in which it was established that it was in the common good to institute the redrawing of constituencies on the basis of the preliminary figures. This is what will happen, with the final decision being confirmed by the results. Previously, the timing of elections had meant there was an inequity in that some areas were under-represented while others were over-represented for protracted periods, with the result that each vote was not equal.
While that was one aspect pertaining to representation, other areas also are important. I believe fundamentally that it is necessary to plan, which is the reason the census is an important vehicle. Expensive advertisements were rightly used to encourage people to fill out their census forms. The message contained therein was the information needed to plan for transport, health care, education, the requisite number of housing units and so on. However, while a broad range of information is gathered, there is little evidence that such information is used effectively. If one considers the education system, anyone who has been involved in politics for a number of years at local government or national level will be aware that when one reaches this time of year, school principals in some schools must suddenly wonder how they will provide accommodation for their incoming pupil numbers. Where is the evidence the census is used to fully plan for this? One can only overlay a census on a good system, which shows the chaos underneath or the lack of a coherent system. This illustrates the need for a reform of the system to make it more rational. For example, a need for an extra school or classrooms involves a lengthy process that is more concerned with the filtering of annual funding than it is about being an effective system for delivering schools and classrooms. For instance, no longer can the number of baptisms in an area be relied upon as a means of knowing how many children will require primary school places because many people do not practice religion or are of mixed faiths so the census in this instance becomes even more important.
The health care system requires a coherent system for gathering information on the age profile of the population as older people are more dependent on it. Our health system consists of a public and a private sector, a public health care system with a private element to it and a private voluntary health care system. The politics on how services are delivered mitigates against delivering adequate services and best value for money.
In the planning system, land use and planning are not linked. If the census statistics had been used to estimate the number of households we might have avoided the situation whereby there is an over-supply of houses and houses in locations where nobody wants to live, and ghost estates. This is a consequence of a lack of planning and of not using the figures gathered in the census to provide for adequate planning. We will all pay a very high price and in particular, my generation, my children and my grandchildren will pay. It is important to make appropriate use of the census information. If we do not plan where people live, we cannot plan for how they will get to work and leisure activities. We lack the ability to plan and to link the appropriate information such as the census information to the planning of services. We need to use these figures in a timely manner.
I disagree with the views of Deputy Ó Snodaigh with regard to the 1926 census. I believe he would probably agree that this census is different because we do not have the benefit of a census in 1921 as a consequence of the War of Independence. There is a significant gap between the census of 1911 and that of 1926. The bulk of the census returns from the 19th century were destroyed because of a lack of paper during the Great War and also because of the burning of the Public Records Office in the early days of the Civil War. The 1926 census returns should be released although I would find favour with Deputy Ó Snodaigh's point about the 1936 census because this was held in more normal circumstances whereas the 1926 census was out of kilter because of the historical time and the absence of a census in 1921.
I thank Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Mac Lochlainn and Catherine Murphy for remaining in the Chamber until the completion of the debate. I am amazed that a member of the opposite Fianna Fáil party would make serious allegations and then run out of the Chamber like a little rat. That is the only way I can describe it because I am amazed at the accusations he made. It was his party that made the original Estimate for the CSO and still he comes in here and makes accusations. He did not even speak on the motion about Dáil reform, the fact that the Opposition was granted the chairing of committees.
To address the comments from some of the Members opposite, Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked whether people on social welfare could be employed as census field workers. I also inquired about this possibility when I was in opposition. However, having spoken to the Central Statistics Office, I was informed that this possibility was explored but any recruitment procedure for positions must be open and transparent to all.
Both Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of CACI. This matter of the confidentiality of the census returns has been raised in the House on a number of occasions. I can assure both Deputies that all returns are completely confidential. The company, CACI, was employed to carry out work in 2002, 2006 and 2011. I can assure the Deputies that all the information gathered in the recent census is completely confidential and will remain so.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked about the census question regarding the number of children born alive. This question was agreed by the census advisory group. The purpose of the question is to measure fertility and to assist the forecasting of population changes over the coming years.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh also asked about access to the 1926 census records. The Statistics Act 1993 provides that no census information can be released prior to 100 years and a change in legislation would be required to enable such release. I believe this provision should remain and no information should be released prior to 100 years.
Deputy Catherine Murphy raised a number of issues and she differed with Deputy Ó Snodaigh's view on the 1926 census records. She spoke about the need for planning for the future and the importance of census information in this regard. I agree with her view. I attended the most recent board meeting of the CSO and I encourage Departments and Ministers to use the information gathered by the CSO because such information is invaluable, accurate and wide-ranging and would be of benefit when preparing Government policies. I am aware that most Departments and Ministers make use of the CSO information when formulating Government policy. The range of information in the CSO is second to none and it should be used more frequently.
I note the planning and work involved in the design of the census return forms and in the phrasing of the questions, for instance, with regard to intellectual disability and other disabilities. I welcome the contributions of the Members opposite. I thank them and commend the motion to the House.